Warm greetings from a quiet, crisp day in the Rocky Mountains.
I’m writing with an invitation for us to do something we’ve never done before. I’ll share more thoughts below, but what I’d ultimately like to ask is this:
Will you help me weave my own casket?
Yes, casket. I’m thinking soon.
I’ve been feeling this powerful, unidentifiable grief gurgling up often in the last several months. It intensified recently, like into pure panic. When my homeopath boosted my remedy, the panic morphed into an urge to write this letter to you all.
So here’s the deal. I have one big, beautiful assignment left to finish before I can graduate from college. I’m writing a thesis, and completing a thesis-related project to share with the community. My thesis topic: why embracing death matters. And the project…Well, you’ll see.
As I’ve fallen deeper into life the last several years, coming into relationship with my own death has become a main thread of my time in Colorado.
You all know I’ve lived with a super rare, life-threatening chronic illness since I was a teenager, Wegener’s Granulomatosis Polyangitis, and many of you witnessed the extreme changes my life, mind, and body underwent during the long, early years of allopathic medical treatment. Since re-starting school, there’s been a lot of illness related to my autoimmune condition, each year bringing handfuls upon handfuls of life-threatening experiences, months-worth of my body and mind being totally out of commission, and corresponding challenges in my academic and work life. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve realized it wouldn’t be shocking for me to die within a few weeks. Especially this year, I’ve started greeting the reality that I probably won’t live a super long life.
I recognize this might be alarming and strange to hear. As a side note, you’re not hearing me “give up” on living; I want to share this news because it’s been incredibly important and clarifying for me to acknowledge. Also very hard. And at this point, a gift, too. I’ve begun the work of intentionally embracing my death, whenever that will be. I don’t have a “guess date” for it, but have realized that I’m not on an endless upward trajectory of healing anymore. I’ve chosen to embrace the decline with grace, ease, and intimacy. And from this, my whole life has started taking on a new shape that feels startlingly rooted, and right to me.
Stephen Jenkinson, a teacher I admire, writes,
“Your better self is born of grief.”
This saying feels more and more true as new germinations start to emerge from quiet corners in my soul. As you’ve probably seen, I’ve been weaving and selling plenty of baskets these days. It turns out that illness and weaving have united, offering up a deep new calling I never expected to receive.
For the last year, I’ve been holding a profound longing to weave caskets. Yep, like the vessels people (and our beloved animals) get held and buried in when they die. Caskets and coffins can be woven by hand. When I first heard this, tingling moved across my whole body and my eyes immediately released gentle tears. It was instantly clear that this is something I need to do. I thought, “this craft could make sense of my whole life.” I cannot imagine a more beautiful, meaningful, or natural thing I could give the rest of my days to. So after a long while dreaming, this is now the path I’m on. Who knew.
And—I want to weave one for my thesis project. Actually, I want to weave my own casket for the project. It feels like a good way to cultivate kinship with dying, though hopefully, I’ll not need to be buried in the casket for at least a few years, or decades if I’m lucky. I’d like to film the process, turn it into a short documentary, and I’ll hold a public screening at Naropa University for the thesis presentation. I recently met an incredibly passionate and skilled cinematographer who’s heading the whole film project.
Most importantly—I’d like to invite you all to join in.
Weaving this vessel is just as much about embracing a relationship with death as it is about completing my last project to graduate from college. And something I’m learning out here in these mountains is that I can’t embrace dying on my own. I need my friends. I think that’s what the unnameable grief in summer and autumn has been about; as I’ve gathered resources for the paper, I’ve also been envisioning and walking toward this casket weaving ritual alone, for several months. And I don’t think that’s how approaching this life-threshold is meant to be. So, will you folks do this with me, and put your good love into my casket? I’d like to find time in March 2020.
Or, if you’re feeling moved to scope out, share, or donate to the GoFundMe for Weaving A Beautiful Death: The Documentary, click here.
We’ve embraced birth, weddings, graduations, ordinary life, and all kinds of ceremony as a collective, in indescribably beautiful and profound ways. Exploring death-before-dying would be new territory for us. And possibly uncomfortable territory. But I bet if ever anybody were to be “good” at it, it’d be us. So would you heart-kin of mine be willing to go there with me, in a weaving ritual of our own making? I think it’s important to do this with you now while I’m alive and relatively well, so we can all benefit from shared wonderings and conversations around the inherently human experience of dying. Death doesn’t get discussed much ahead of time in our culture, but I think it’s much more lovely not to leave these wonderings to you until after I’m dead (again, I don’t know how close or far away this will actually be).
I’ve heard that weaving a casket takes about a week for a novice. I’m currently working my way toward studying with a remarkable casket weaver in New Zealand ahead of time, this February (see the GoFundMe link above). Here’s my rudimentary plan, once I return to the States: first, gather with a few Colorado-based folks to frame a wooden casket-base. I’ll drive the base up to Minnesota. Then Minnesota-folk gather to work on the vessel for a few days. I’ll drive the casket back to Colorado, and finish any remaining weaving there.
I’d guide the weaving, and all of your gifts would be welcome–merry-making, music-ing, yoga, dancing, meditating, food-making, and good ol’ philosophizing and connecting, silliness and sacredness alike. This ceremony is something I want to co-create. I’m still in search of a location, though Prairie Oaks Institute in Belle Plaine (where Amy and Ben were married) has come to mind as one place to investigate. And it’s okay if people can come for different lengths of time. If two days or just a few hours is workable, that’s great. We’ve got a variety of commitments to work with.
So, my friends. Are you up for this? Questions? If it’s yes, and I know you on a personal level, please reach out to me. Or if you’re not around, check out, share, or donate to the GoFundMe for Weaving A Beautiful Death: The Documentary.
I’m so unbelievably thankful to be able to ask you all to embark on this adventure with me, and I’ll keep loving you no matter your answer.
With Deep, Wide, Beaming Love,
“While grief may look like an expression of pain that serves no purpose, it is actually the soul’s acknowledgement of what we value. Grief is the honour we pay to that which is dear to us. And it is only through the connection to what we cherish that we can know how to move forward. In this way, grief is motion.” ~ Toko-pa Turner, from Belonging: Remembering Ourselves Home